3 Days in Kansas City: happy 816 day

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Happy one year anniversary to this blog!  In honor of that milestone, here’s the very first blog post showcasing one of my favorite places I’ve lived, Kansas City!  And it just so happens to fall on 8/16 day!

Kansas City is underrated.  You will hear me say this over and over again, but it’s true.  There is literally something there for everyone, for all budgets and tastes.  It has Midwestern values combined with a sophisticated art and dining scene comparable to any of its urban counterparts, but psst…it’s more affordable.  I used to tell people back in California that KC is a sleeper city (I’ve heard the term flyover country more times than I care for), but the secret’s out.  KC is having a real moment right now.  After the MLB All Star game in 2012 and the Royals winning the World Series in 2015, people have started to take notice of this city as a travel destination.

I lived in the heart of America for eleven years, so when I visit, I try to hit all of my favorite spots in 2-3 days.  This is a tall order because there’s so much to eat do! Of course, this itinerary assumes that you’re not coming for a specific concert or sporting event.  I could write a thousand posts about that (and maybe I will), but for now here’s my way to spend 3 days in Kansas City, MO (with a cameo from Kansas City, KS, too).

Click those red heels like Dorothy, because there’s no place like home…

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know before you go: JFK

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I have a complex relationship with JFK, as I do with LAX.  Being the two most populous international arrival airports, they should be more inviting and welcoming than they are.  Instead, customs lines are long, people aren’t the friendliest, and they both could be cleaner for sure.  Plus, at JFK, you have to leave security to go terminal to terminal!  There’s no way that’s not confusing to a foreign visitor, or even to a local for that matter.

Perhaps we’re trying to give foreign visitors a picture of what America’s truly like?  Confusing and crowded and sweaty.  At least it’s still better than LaGuardia?

JFK is located in Queens, about 16 miles south of Manhattan.  There are 6 terminals with about 128 gates.  Terminal one serves a bevy of international carriers (Air France, Korean, Lufthansa, JAL, Turkish, Norwegian, WOWAir, Alitalia, Air China, China Eastern).  Terminal 2 is for Delta, Four is for Delta and Skyteam (including Aeromexico, China Airlines, China Southern, KLM; JetBlue, Emirates, Etihad, Singapore and Virgin amongst many others).  Terminal 5 is a club in NYC and it also serves JetBlue.  Terminal 7 has British Airways, Alaska, LOT, Icelandair and Qatar.  Terminal 8 is for American.

Remember: ✈️ = ny i love you but you’re bringing me down to ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️ = welcome to new york (it’s been waiting for you)

Transportation to the airport:  ✈️✈️✈️✈️ (metro, bus, taxi, car, airporter, lots of options)

Ease of navigating through terminals: ✈️ (just the fact that you have to exit and re-enter security sucks)

Convenience of security lines: ✈️✈️ (it goes as fast as it can with the sheer volume of passenger traffic; customs lines can be brutal here)

Dining: ✈️✈️✈️ (there’s lots of options, but it’s inconsistent; like some terminals have McDonald’s and Starbucks, some don’t.  Some have Peet’s and don’t get me started, eesh.  7-Eleven in a few, and Terminal 4 has two Shake Shacks while the others don’t have any.  Some have Dunkin Donuts and Buffalo Wild Wings/Panda Express!  Why so cruel, JFK?  And since it’s NY, so I’m kind of expecting elevated dining, but there isn’t much beyond fast casual)

Bathrooms: ✈️✈️ (please don’t judge us by the bathrooms in this airport)

Charging stations/wifi: ✈️✈️ (free wifi — didn’t always used to be the case)

Amenities: ✈️✈️✈️ (again, inconsistent luxury shopping between international terminals.  Tumi, Cartier, Hermes, Mont Blanc — do people need last minute fountain pens as gifts? Good luck in Terminal 2, there’s like a Best Buy kiosk for shopping and that’s it.  Lots of international flights means lots of lounges {except for the last one shutting down in Terminal 5}, but don’t expect any yoga or meditation/prayer rooms in this airport, there’s no real estate for that)

weekender in LA: good as gold

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If you’ve ever read food writing in or about any city other than Los Angeles, then you’ve probably never truly experienced how transcendent and indispensable the Counter Intelligence column was to food and culture…and to life in Los Angeles.  Its author was a king in the food world, imparting a Midas touch on any eatery he liked, no exaggeration, as his name was appropriately, Jonathan Gold.

(That was my piss poor attempt to write second person as he did so well).

As a lifelong Southern Californian, hearing about Mr. Gold’s sudden passing was heartbreaking.  You can’t really know how pervasive and revered his opinion was unless you lived and breathed and ate what he ate.  He ate, and ate…real food.

He believed that it was the stick to your soul, sizzling off the wok, fatty soup belly that creates the indelible memories and experiences of a grand food life lived.  And of course, he was right!  Jonathan Gold was the one who would gently steer you in this direction, showing you the light, making things that seemed inaccessible or scary become familiar and expected.

Mr. Gold brought to the masses what all children of immigrants in SoCal have known for years…that the best meals happen in somewhat shabby strip malls, in the sticky dining rooms of mom and pop shops — often times with no white linen table cloths in sight.  Although he wasn’t that discerning, there was a time and place for those experiences, too.  He taught us that all types of cuisine, and on a larger scale, all types of people could and should be celebrated.

He was a champion of the unadorned, the unpretentious, whilst peppering his reviews with esoteric references that elevated the intelligence of his reader.  Only a true master of his craft could achieve such a feat.  And he was recognized for it, having been the only food critic to receive a Pulitzer Prize for food writing.

He was a legend in a city of stars.  Undoubtedly, one of its most influential characters; after all, it was often his opinion that brought everyone to the table.

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3 days in Toronto feat. Niagara Falls

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Well, the NBA is making moves.  Toronto is a bit cooler than San Antonio, so be like Kawhi and start planning your trip up north.

As far as bucket lists go, Niagara Falls is typically a popular featured destination, for good reason.  It’s one of the most beautiful natural wonders of the world, and it’s right in our own backyard.  *Whispers: the Canadian side is better. Sore-y, not sore-y.

Oh Canada…

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know before you go: SFO airport

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I left more than my heart in San Francisco (SFO).  Mainly, my patience.

Honestly, SFO is never my airport of choice to fly into or out of, and there’s one reason for that.  The morning fog that chills the air…turns out I DO care, Tony Bennett.  I care because I’ve never had a morning flight that was not delayed due to nature’s wet blanket.

But, it’s one of the busiest airports in America as it is a gateway to the East and Europe, so sometimes its inevitable. It’s about 13 miles from Downtown SF, which is basically a year away, approximated for traffic.  The exterior reminds me of NY JFK, and the interior is also reminiscent.  That’s not a compliment for either airport.

There are 4 terminals and 7 concourses with about 85-90 functioning gates.  Terminal 1  (Delta, Frontier, Southwest); Terminal 2 is Virgin and American, Terminal 3 is United, and then there’s international (for some reason Hawaiian and JetBlue are grouped in here) which is another ballgame.

The thing I do appreciate, however, is the dining and shopping options.  There’s a real focus on local brands amongst the national chain restaurants, and lots to see in the duty free shopping portals (2 Gucci stores!  Most cities don’t have one Gucci store!).  There’s a Three Twins Ice Cream, which almost makes up for the delays… almost.  Of course, as a huge international hub, there are 17 airline lounges.

It’s not the worst and it’s not the best place to have a layover, depending on the area.

Remember: ✈️ = basically alcatraz to ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️ = bae area

Ease of navigating through terminals: ✈️✈️ (it’s the largest airport in CA, larger than LAX which is HUGE)

Convenience of security lines: ✈️✈️ (there’s a lot of people which slows things)

Dining: ✈️✈️✈️✈️ (so many local options: Gott’s, Dogpatch, Gordon Biersch–from Palo Alto, Boudin, 24th & Mission–but, at local prices)

Bathrooms: ✈️✈️ (as with any major airport, could be cleaner)

Charging stations/wifi: ✈️✈️ (free wifi but it is shotty at best)

Amenities: ✈️✈️✈️✈️ (yoga rooms, kids areas, museums, airline lounges, Xpresspas, a Ghiradelli store, luxury shopping–which is very good in International, did I mention there’s 2 Gucci stores?)

capital cities: 36 hours in D.C.

IMG_8678.jpgOur nation’s capital is a fantastic destination, but for the fact that it is located clear across the country from us West Coasters.  Guess that’s just more reason to make the most of any visit to the District of Columbia.

There are SO many museums and monuments, it’s impossible to fit them all in one short trip.  That’s what directed 8th grade tours are for; not sure if they offer those anymore, but I went on my middle school’s, and it was a blast.  Highly recommend.

But I digress, let’s DC Talk

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once upon a midnight dreary: day trip to Baltimore

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Baltimore is probably not the first place that pops into your head when you’re planning a vacation.  It’s probably not in the top ten…but they didn’t self-anoint it Charm City for nothing!  Find yourself not weak nor weary, and set out on an adventure filled with fantastic art and forgotten lore.

It’s certainly a gritty city (there’s a reason why the Wire was based here), but underneath the surface, there is a ton of history and culture just waiting to be found.  I mean, Edgar Allan Poe was inspired to pen some of the most suspenseful, fantastical thrillers while living here, so say no to Baltimore?

I bid you nevermore…

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weekender in LA: the sequel

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Living so close to LA, I feel privileged to be able to enjoy the culture and attractions of la la land without having to actually live there.  I get it, you really have to let the place grow on you and you have to be patient.  Let it in.

My friends from the midwest dislike visiting LA a lot.  Like a lot, a lot.  It’s because it’s so hard to get from point A to point B, and near impossible if you want to cross town to do anything.  But…you can get a ton done if you plan things out well (yes I’m a nerd, but we get the job done).

Here’s another itinerary for an LA weekender

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know before you go: Las Vegas (LAS), Stanley Cup Final edition

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Ovi here

The Stanley Cup final returns to Las Vegas for Game 5 tonight, and I’m hoping that luck will be a lady bing trophy to the Golden Knights so they can extend this series!

McCarran International Airport (LAS) serving Las Vegas, Nevada, is one of my favorite airports through which to fly.  There’s a lot to do here on a layover…like gamble!  I’m not sure I’ve ever flown internationally from here, but I would say I average 6-8 domestic connections per year.  It’s a huge hub to and from the west coast with 110 gates.

First of all, it’s fairly close to the strip (less than 5 miles), and it’s cool to see Las Vegas boulevard from an aerial view as you start your descent.  This part always makes me very excited.  However, because Las Vegas is very hot, both takeoffs and landings can be very turbulent.  This part makes me hesitant.  That’s Las Vegas in a nutshell.

The worst thing about flying into Vegas is that inevitably, one of your flight attendants will call it “Lost Wages.”  This is the worst joke, it needs to be retired.  Please.

Southwest, I’m talking to you…

The confusing thing is that it is split into Terminal 1 and Terminal 3.   There is no Terminal 2.  Not sure if David Copperfield made it disappear or what, but it’s not there.  Terminal 1 (concourses A-D) has a lot of domestic, but not all.  Terminal 3 (also D along with E) has international and some domestic.

I love people watching here.  There’s no other airport where the arrivals and departures are so bipolar.  When people get here, they’re ready to party, all bright-eyed and bushy tailed.  And then when they leave…well they look more like they’ve been cross-checked by TJ Oshie.

The security lines are always a bit hairy, and you’ll watch the TSA video featuring celebrity impersonators/Vegas entertainers like a hundred times, but once you’re in, there’s chimes and flashing lights and all sorts of commotion from the slot machines!

They have good fast food options, it’s easy to get from one concourse to the other (although from the Southwest C gates takes half your life).   You have to take a tram from the gates to baggage, but it’s quick.  The baggage claim area is huge.  Their rideshare waiting area can be tricky to get to (have to cross the street into a parking structure whose elevator levels have the weirdest designations)–random mezzanine level, huh?). But overall, if you had to have a layover here, it wouldn’t be a complete loss (unless you do get tempted by the shiny machines with the flashing lights).

Remember: ✈️ = lost wages to ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️ = viva, las vegas!

Ease of navigating through terminals: ✈️✈️✈️ (good signs, it’s a long walk)

Convenience of security lines: ✈️✈️ (get there early)

Dining: ✈️✈️✈️ (mostly fast food, great hours, and there’s Coffee Bean and Starbucks)

Bathrooms:✈️✈️ (always crowded, need more)

Charging stations/wifi: ✈️✈️ (free wifi available, not enough charging stations in the gate areas, but have designated areas that are always packed)

Amenities: ✈️✈️✈️✈️ (Gaming facilities.  People watching can occupy you for hours.  Only a few lounges (AmEx and United), some Xpress Spas, weird B list mall stores, no luxury purveyors because I think they want you to spend the money in their casinos instead)

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know before you go: Reagan (DCA)

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Well I was hoping I’d have this whole week to post about Stanley Cup Finals cities of Washington, D.C. and Vegas, but so far, it looks like the Caps are about to run away with this one…hopefully Vegas can make this a series, but if not, better head over to the nation’s capital by Thursday.

DC metro area has a plethora of options transportation wise, being our nation’s capital, with three major airports allowing for travel to this area.  Dulles, Baltimore and Reagan all feed our nation’s capital.  Reagan National is probably the least chaotic and most convenient. Located in Arlington, VA, it’s a quick Metro ride away from the city center.

As a hub for American Airlines, there are very limited international flights allowed to land here (must be from countries that have pre-clearance US Customs facilities), instead those flights go to Dulles or Baltimore.

Terminal A has 9 gates and operates flights from Air Canada, Frontier, Southwest and Sun Country.  Where it gets a little tricky is that B and C are split into three concourses. Terminal B serves Alaska, American, Delta, JetBlue and United with gates 10-22, Terminal B/C gates 23-34 and Terminal C gates 35-45.  Terminal C is used by American and Virgin.

Remember: ✈️ = popcorn jelly belly to ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️ = pear jelly belly

Convenience to the city: ✈️✈️✈️ (quick train ride from the city, traffic in DC can be bad so plan accordingly)

Ease of navigating through terminals: ✈️✈️✈️ (it can be a long haul from the train station to Terminal A, like so long I thought I had crossed into another state)

Convenience of check in/security lines: ✈️✈️ (security is long here, but for good reason)

Dining: ✈️✈️✈️ (Starbucks, of course, Chick Fil-A, Legal Seafood, Pinkberry)

Bathrooms: ✈️✈️  (not the newest or cleanest)

Charging stations/wifi: ✈️✈️✈️ (free wifi available, designated charging areas)

Amenities: ✈️✈️ (lounges available, it is DC after all; Smithsonian and Spanx stores–just in case you forgot your shapewear?)